On my other blog , I used to have a thing called “Creature Feature”, where I would expand on various beasts from Romanian folklore. I’ve now decided to pay a little bit of attention to the plant kingdom and the Romanian legends, rites and rituals that revolve around it.
We’re going to start with one of our well known ethnobotanical friends, Atropa belladonna. Known as Banewort or Deadly Nightshade in English, Atropa belladonna is most commonly called Mătrăguna in Romanian folklore. According to Borza’s Dictionary, it also goes by the names of Cinstita (the honest), Cireașa lupului (wolf’s cherry), Doamna codrului (lady of the forest), Iarba lupului (wolf’s grass), or Împărăteasa buruienilor (the empress of weeds).
It belongs to the Solanaceae family, has brown-violet flowers and shiny black fruits. Its leaves and roots are rich in alkaloids such as hyoscyamine, atropine or scopolamine.
In his book on Romanian ethnobotanics, Marian talks about the important role that Atropa belladonna plays in love spells cast by women.
A young woman that desires to attract the company of young men has to dress up in her newest, cleanest set of clothes on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. For this ritual, she needs around 500ml of holercă (bad quality moonshine), a glass and a loaf of bread. Just before sunrise she will go to the place where the plant is growing and go round the belladonna while saying:
Mătrăgună, doamnă bună!
Mărită-mă-n astă lună
De nu-n asta, -n ceealaltă
Că-i destul de când sunt fată.
Mătrăgună, kind lady
Get me married this month,
If not this one, then the next,
I have been enough a maid.
Then, the young woman is supposed to lay the table cloth at the feet of the plant and serve it the glass of moonshine saying:
Mătrăgună, poamă bună!
Eu te cinstesc cu cinste
Cu dragoste și cu pâine,
Să vie norocul la mine…
Norocul când s-a-mpărțit,
Eram cu plugul la câmp
Puțintel mi s-a venit,
Mătrăgună, good seed
In honesty I serve you
With love and bread
May you send me luck…
When luck got spread
I was harvesting the field
So I didn’t get a lot
I was meant for Mătrăgună.
After reciting the spell above, she has to drink the moonshine, refill the glass and sprinkle the refill on the plant. She will do the same with some bread. The maiden will then take the bread left in the tablecloth, put the bottle on her head, grab the filled glass in her hand and return to her home, chanting the spell.
She will repeat the ritual on the following Wednesday and Friday, choosing different roads back home and being careful not to be seen.
On Friday, she will harvest the plant and take it home wrapped in the table cloth. When home, she will put it under the pillow and bathe in an infusion of Belladonna in the evening. She will take the plant back on Saturday morning. She has to take another way back home and never look back.
In his book on narcotics in Romanian culture and folklore, Oișteanu quotes Marian regarding Belladonna. In Bucovina (north-east of Romania), it is believed that there are two types of Mătrăgună: the black one, which grows in shady groves, and the white one, which grows where the sun scorches the earth.
Tavern or inn owners put the plant on top of the moonshine barrels, to attract patrons.
Mătrăguna can also be used to harm enemies. If this is the case, one must harvest the plant while cussing and cursing, moving one’s limbs chaotically and invoking the plant’s magical powers. After the harvest, parts of the plant are placed in the victim’s food or drink. It is said that the one cursed like this goes insane and never gets his sanity back.
*image stolen from http://www.henriettes-herb.com
** the verses in bold are an approximate translation and interpretation of the Romanian incantation, due to the archaic use of language and to the fact that I am not a professional translator this is the best I could do